Corporate Facebook – should you use Facebook or a Facebook-type system?

Haven’t posted about Facebook for a while but this comment from Emmanuele raised some interesting points which I felt deserved their own post.

When I wrote about how Facebook itself wasn’t neccessarily a great intranet, but Facebook-type systems would be, Emmanuele pointed me toward Workbook, a Facebook application which creates a secure Facebook for the enterprise. The idea is that if you can create a secure Facebook area to connect with work colleagues, you get a social networking intranet with the look and feel of Facebook that users know and love, as well as a system pre-populated with all your contacts. Therefore Facebook can be used as a corporate intranet.

This raised the following thoughts:

  1. Irrespective of whether or not you use Facebook or an internal Facebook-type system, the point about seeding content is 100% valid. Adoption will significantly increase if a user’s contacts are pre-loaded rather than requiring him or her to manually add them. As I’m sure Dvir will tell you, there is some great technology coming out of organisations such as IBM which not only would pre-populate a system from a corporate directory, but also would analyse users’ email, instant messaging, SMS, phone and voicemail records to deduce a contact list (including external contacts), and pre-populate accordingly.
  2. I’m still not entirely convinced that having a corporate system appear exactly as Facebook is a good idea. Whilst it may appear to Gen-Y, we still have a job to do in getting the digitial immigrant generation to use social networking tools. If the corporate version looks identical to Facebook, this may actually put them off! As long as the UI is intuitive, Gen-Y will get it. The compromise between Facebook functionality, but corporate branding I think is the best bet to get adoption from both sides of the digital divide.
  3. Whilst the line between a professional and personal contact is blurring, some users still see value, and actively wish to keep the two separate. Again, this is important in keeping the digitial immigrants on board.
  4. I still believe that the corporate-Facebook has different functionality than the social-Facebook. This is because they solve fundamentally different problems. Facebook is a way of keeping in touch with people with very low effort. I am in frequent touch with friends who have moved away or on to different lives where previously the relationship would be reduced to sending a Christmas card every year, “just to stay in touch”. Corporate-Facebook is about finding expertise, reaching out to people you don’t know and evaluating whether they are a trustworthy person with whom it is worth sharing knowledge and expertise. So where Facebook revolves around photos, corporate-Facebook systems revolve around link-sharing. Facebook focuses on “what you are doing right now” whereas corporate-Facebook focuses more on “what you know (and who you know ) right now”. So whilst there are obvious functional similarities (embedded instant messaging for starters) their purpose is very different.

Thanks to Emanuele for raising these questions that made me revisit this topic! Whichever side of the fence you sit on whether corporates should use Facebook itself or systems such as IBM Connections or Microsoft Sharepoint which offer Facebook-style functionality, there’s certainly a consenus growing that social software is useful!

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6 Responses to Corporate Facebook – should you use Facebook or a Facebook-type system?

  1. Dvir Reznik says:

    Hey Jon,

    Your bottom line is the punch line of it all: similar functions, different purpose. And even thou this Facebook app (haven’t heard about it till now) makes your network ‘private’, the information is still stored publicly. And people are looking for similar functions, not necessarily with FB.

    The GUI needs to be similar like you say, and very intuitive – add connection/friend with 1-click. The new Facebook sidebar ‘people you may know’ is a) excellent!! why FB waited till now?, and b) easy to use – no need to navigate away from your homepage.

    With regards to Enterprise 2.0, there are two links worth sharing, that represent E2.0 adoption:
    Gia Lyons: http://tinyurl.com/62yadg and
    PC World: http://tinyurl.com/6zgpye

  2. Jon Mell says:

    Thanks Dvir – am already connected with Gia but hadn’t seen that PC World article!

    Jon

  3. Emanuele says:

    Hi Jon,
    I think you are right: the context makes the difference and I completely agree that the real Facebook experience is too extreme to the average knowledge worker.

    On the Workbook side I must say that the experience and especially the apps you get in Workbook are not the same you have in Facebook. You can easily have a taxi or a room reservation app running on your data that is keept secure (so the information is not stored publicly). This means that the basic working is Facebook-like, the real experience is more tailored.

    I love Lotus Connections. I started loving it when Dogear, Fringe Contacts, etc were made available and they’re for sure more oriented to the enterprise. I don’t know (no pun intended)if the price tag (and infrastructure) could be accessible to every single startup.

  4. Jon Mell says:

    Thanks Emanuele – the licensing costs aren’t too bad for Connections, it’s the infrastructure costs that inhibits SMB adoption. Microsoft do this a lot better than IBM. We use Intermedia who offer hosted Exchange for under $8 per user per month, with options to add Sharepoint and OCS for similar prices. I don’t see anyone offering the hosted IBM collaboration suite in a manner that is so easy to buy and set up, but it would be incredibly powerful if you could sign up with a credit card for Domino/Sametime/Connections for $24/user/month and be up and running in 5 minutes!

  5. Yonni Harif says:

    Hi Jon,

    Thanks for writing about us. I’ve enjoyed your exchange with Emanuele, who is one of the most passionate people I know in this space.

    Just to add some thoughts on adoption and business value to what you and Dvir mentioned –

    1. The underlying principle behind WorkLight products, including WorkBook, is that employees are already using these consumer services at work, yet not securely. By implementing a WorkLight solution behind the firewall, companies can foster collaboration using the same services that employees use at home. This results in much higher adoption rates, which is critical to any Web 2.0 service.

    2. By leveraging a popular tool such as Facebook for work, the company gains business value not only by the enhanced collaboration, but also by letting employees complete business tasks securely through WorkBook/Facebook. The use cases are endless – approving purchase requisitions, time reporting, document exchange, etc. These have a real impact on companies’ bottom line.

  6. Jon Mell says:

    Thanks Yonni, love your focus on adoption and fundamentally believe this will be the key to this technology’s success.

    I’m interested in your point about “endless use cases”. Do you find this is sometimes a barrier in terms of positioning? We have found that once you actually start to provide a specific use case people can tangiably grasp something at otherwise can be quite an abstract concept. This ends up being far more powerful than “you can use it for everything!”

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